How much should I charge as a Photographer

Cameras are not made out of money

There are photographers out there that are not recovering their expenses or paying themselves proper hourly wage. Time for some math, the price you charge for a shoot has three parts:

  • CODB (cost of doing business) per year over the number of shoots. The more shoots per year you do, the less this part becomes.
  • Your average cost per shoot. How much does it cost to operate your vehicle which is at least $. 50 per mile, but probably much more.
  • How you pay yourself per hour. My belief is this should be at least an average per hour wage that is pay yourself.

Supposed you pick a price out of your head because it’s more or less similar to a local competitor you may risk not recovering all your costs and/or paying yourself a ridiculously low rate per hour. What if your competitor just picked their price out of the air too? Their cost is not your cost.

  • CODB: Let say $20,000 is your expense of being in business for a year. Some will say, "what", but you need to include costs to replace equipment every couple of years, health insurance, business insurance, investments in a retirement fund, etc. I calculate conservative estimates for 18 different standard business costs in this amount.
  • Average number of shoots: 40 per month or 2 per day. Even though you do more or less than this sometimes you need to use a year long average to make sure you are recovering all your expenses.
  • Average cost per mile to operate a vehicle: $0.50 per mile. You should compute this from you actuals, but it’s likely to be more. (Check IRS Rates)
  • Average miles driven per shoot: 30 miles. Only you know this. Again actuals are best.
  • Your hourly rate: $30 per hour. This is based on the fact that the US Dept of labor statistics says the average hourly rate paid in private industry is $27.70 per hour. I figure we are all better than average!
  • The average shoots takes about 5 hours of your time. This is driving, shooting and post-processing. Sure, some take more and some take less but you want this number to be a comfortable average.
  • The average cost for overnight stay if you have to stay on the job site, you have to calculate hotel, food, etc. Check GSA site for standard rates depending on the area you are staying.

If you use some basic conservative assumptions for what you should charge in your area, then come up with the following:

  • Cost to show up at a shoot is: $90.83 (used as an example)
  • Standard photoshoot price should be: $200.86 (used as an example) 

While these numbers may not be your exact expenses we can argue that your actuals are more likely to be higher than this than lower. It’s important to do the work you do to track all your expenses and figure out what it’s actually costing you to show up and how much per hour you are paying yourself.

Finally, I’d like to point out that if you are a photographer to start your business in an area and don’t do this kind of analysis and start charging a low price you are not just impacting yourself. You impact the ability of other photographers in that market to recover their costs and charge a reasonable wage too. Once someone that does a reasonable job starts charging a low price, it becomes difficult for others to market a similar product for more. I would argue there is a social responsibility aspect of recovering your expenses. You don’t just hurt yourself by charging too little; you affect others as well.

In David duChemin’s book Vision Mongers, David explains, “photography might just cost more than it ever gives back... ” He goes on to say, “A great living, when it happens, is not the goal; it’s the by-product.” That, in a nutshell, sums it up. Don’t sacrifice your creativity, vision and passion for what you know in your heart you love to do in order to simply make a quick buck. Find your passion, seek out your vision, and shoot what you love to shoot!